“To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news”

That line comes from a New York Times story today on government produced “news reports” run as news on local television stations. This practice is illegal, says the comptroller general, speaking of the reports slickly “designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast.” But just as newspapers have occasionally run press releases as news, local television stations are running video news releases as news, including one featuring an Iraqi visiting Kansas City, expressing gratitude for the devastation we have wrought upon his country. Evidently, there have been a number of these reports, reinforcing the ideology of the Bush Administration. “[M]ost news directors were at a loss to explain how the segments made it on the air. Some said they were unable to find archive tapes that would help answer the question. Others promised to look into it, then stopped returning telephone messages. A few removed the segments from their Web sites, promised greater vigilance in the future or pleaded ignorance.”

Jumpy and Trigger-Happy Teenagers

Iraqi insurgents freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena only to have American soldiers fire on her car as it approached the airport. Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, who had negotiated her release, threw his body over hers, and was killed; she was wounded by shrapnel. Apparently, her captors had warned her that the Americans wanted her dead. It is known that American authorities disapprove of ransom payments. U.S. and Italian accounts of the shooting differ, Italians have elevated Calipari to the status of a national hero, and demanded an explanation. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to blame Sgrena for accusing the Americans of intentionally targetting her.

But there is another side to the story. Imagine yourself a young soldier, full of hormones, in what is, for the most part, hostile territory. The might of American military power seems a lot less persuasive when it’s just you and a few of your buddies manning a roadblock. You have no way to tell whether that approaching car is friend or foe. The local people are overwhelmingly opposed to your presence; and some of them are willing to martyr themselves just to kill you.

Maybe you see something. Or maybe you just think you see something. Are these the circumstances in which you’re going to make your finest judgments?

Budget Deficit worse, Trade Deficit worse, but Economy strong?

According to this article in the Washington Post, the trade deficit continues to expand. The Bush Administration sees it as meaning that U.S. consumers can continue to afford to buy imports. Of course the fact that China has pegged the Yuan to the Dollar, explicitly to keep its products cheap in the American market, means that what this really means is that consumers here can’t afford to buy anything else.

Jeff Danziger’s editorial cartoon sums it up neatly.

Mars Society endorses new NASA head

Mike Griffin: A Superb Choice for NASA Administrator
March 12, 2005
For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org

Statement of Mars Society President Robert Zubrin on the Selection of Dr. Mike Griffin for NASA Administrator

Mike Griffin is a superb choice for NASA Administrator. I have known Mike for more than a decade. He is a real leader who is technically brilliant, highly creative, open minded to new ideas, well-experienced, and deeply committed for many years to the success of the American space program – emphatically including the new vision of reaching for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The Bush administration is to be commended for this inspired selection. There is literally no one better qualified to lead the new space initiative than Mike Griffin. For the job of 11th NASA Administrator, Mike is the right man, in the right place, at the right time. As President of the Mars Society, I offer him our full support.

Abandon it, but spend money on it

According to a Reuters story in Yahoo! News, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has sent a letter to NASA advising that failing to spend the $291 million budgeted in 2005 for a repair mission to Hubble could be against the law. The Bush Administration’s proposed 2006 budget only allots “$93 million for the Hubble program, with $75 million of that set aside to bring the orbiting observatory safely to Earth.”

Meanwhile, some rather spectacular shots — unfortunately in low resolution — taken by Hubble are included in this slide show; it’s a taste of what we stand to lose.

EFF: Best E-voting Bill Reintroduced

This comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

In 2004, thousands of EFF activists helped Rep. Rush Holt’s Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (VCIAA, HB 550) garner immense support before the session ended. The bill contains several critically important election reforms, including the requirement of a paper audit trail for all electronic voting machines, random audits, and public availability of all code used in elections. HB 550 was recently reintroduced, and it already has over 100 bipartisan cosponsors.

The momentum is on our side, and it’s more important than ever to ask your representative to support this bill – many counties across the country are choosing voting equipment now. Tell Congress to stand up for election reform!

Make your voice heard: http://action.eff.org/site/Advocacy?id=109

Welcome to my Blog

Hello world. Duh.

Okay, this is my very first blog. In fact, it’s my very first dynamic content on a server I’ve been running for years.

But if you’ve following this particular server — hello, homeland security folks — you know I have a rather eclectic collection of interests in politics, foreign affairs, religion, science fiction, and lifestyles which I view from a left-libertarian and Taoist perspective.

You’re welcome to post your comments. Posting pictures doesn’t work yet. I don’t know why, and frankly, that’s kind of disappointing. It’s not doing times the way I’d like, and in some cases it’s just plain doing them wrong. But I’ve got a bug report in.

So we’ll see how this goes. And if it goes well, I may set up blogs under some of my domains. Have fun!